“Two for one!” Fayetteville City Council’s Baseball Committee chairman Jim Arp uses that phrase to demonstrate the value of the new baseball stadium about to get under construction downtown. “For every dollar the city has invested in the stadium, private developers are investing two dollars for nearby projects,” Arp said, adding that many communities hope for returns on investment after the fact. In Fayetteville, it’s a certainty.
“This is a transformational project,” said Robert Van Geons, CEO and president of the Fayetteville/ Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation. “It’s evidence of what we’ve been telling people about Fayetteville.” He said in the year he has been on the job in Cumberland County, “developers and site selectors are now thinking about us as an affordable opportunity.”
PCH Holdings of Durham has already invested $9 million in a bank loan to renovate the former Prince Charles Hotel. There’s no physical evidence of that yet because the company is doing interior work on the eight-story building first. PCH project manager Jordan Jones said that a year and a half ago, North Carolina’s largest banks were not interested in doing business in downtown Fayetteville. They all rejected PCH Holdings’ loan requests. Now, PCH has a host of blue prints for other stadium properties that it has acquired. Those developments will cost $50 million, and Jones hinted other lenders are coming forward now.
Jones said PCH Holdings will soon begin construction of a five-story parking garage adjacent to the train station. Two structures are planned above the garage: a four-story hotel and an eight-story premium office building. It will become Fayetteville’s largest high-rise structure, two floors taller than the Systel Building. In all, PCH Holdings has committed $60 million in projects adjacent to the $33 million minor league stadium.
City council has agreed to advance project contractor Barton- Malow another initial funding allocation of $300,000 for stadium infrastructure work, much of which is underway. The financing model is based on upfront cash funding of $2.2 million from the city and financing of $31.18 million using limited obligation bonds for a period of 20 years at 3.89 percent.
City of Fayetteville Budget Director Tracey Broyles said the city has more than enough capacity to accommodate possible cost overruns, including the significantly increased cost of a parking deck.
The parking garage has been in the city’s financial plan all along. But Deputy City Manager Kristoff Bauer’s initial “rough estimate” of the cost was $7 million. He recently revised his numbers and told council the actual projection is $14.8 million since two buildings will be built atop the structure. Broyles said adjustments can be made to FY 2019 capital improvement projects to meet the higher cost. Possible cost overruns not yet indicated could send the project over $33 million budget. Broyles said the city has the capacity to absorb an additional $3 million in cost overruns should they occur.
Councilman Arp, himself a big baseball fan, said the Houston Astros’ 30-year agreement to keep a minor league team in Fayetteville is another advantage in promoting downtown economic development. He said most major league ballclubs don’t make long-term commitments. The city of Fayetteville agreed to build a topflight stadium only after the Astros executed a 30-year lease with the city. “Houston wants to invest in Fayetteville,” said Dan O’Neill, the Astros business operations manager. With a 30-year lease, “we can plant roots here,” he added.
O’Neill’s thinking is in sync with the city’s hope to make the ballpark a year-round entertainment venue. Houston will manage the property and is responsible for working with the city to see that the stadium is used for other sporting events, concerts and festivals.
O’Neill emphasized that Houston’s most important connection is with the people. He hopes to make a significant investment in youth athletics, noting that sports equipment and ball field upkeep are expensive.